Nutrition for Pregnancy

By: Michelle Miller, Clinical Nutritionist & Rachel Naar, Registered Dietitian

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘what to expect when you’re expecting,’ but what about what you should EAT when you’re expecting? Or how about how to care for yourself BEFORE you’re expecting?

Here we take a deep dive into the proper nutrition for pregnancy. Allow us to separate fact from fiction, and ease your baby-brained woes.

Adequate health and nutrition status are needed for successful reproduction.

The mechanisms that regulate fertility can be disrupted by many factors including adverse nutritional exposures, severe stress, infection, structural problems and chromosomal abnormalities.

Nutrient intake from food, supplements, and body fat affect fertility primarily by:

  • Altering the environment in which eggs and sperm develop
  • Modifying levels of hormones involved in reproductive processes

ZINC – Inadequate zinc status in men can impair normal functions

What to do: Work to safely increase zinc stores. Zinc is found in poultry, seafood, whole grain products, beans, nuts and seeds.

IRON – Poor iron status is related to reduced fertility.

What to do: Correct iron status.Pregnant women need at least 27 mg of iron each day. Foods with high to moderate amounts of iron include: chicken and fish, spinach, leafy greens, and beans. For vegetarians and those who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. Ex. Eat an arugula salad with strawberries.

ALCOHOL (for men) Alcohol decreases testosterone levels, reduces sperm concentration, reduces total count, as well as sperm with normal shape.

What to do: Omit alcohol 1 month before conception.

The good news is, normal fertility returns once the problem is corrected.

So you want to get pregnant…

The period of time ONE MONTH BEFORE conception through THREE MONTHS AFTER conception is a critical period when nutritional and other exposures can impact pregnancy maintenance, the growth, development, and the health of the offspring.

What do you need to know?

  • Increase of Folic Acid or methylfolate to 600 mcg (reduces the risk of neural tube defects)
  • Increase of Iron to 30 mg (deficiency increases the risk of early delivery and deficiency can be transferred to child, pro tip: try liquid as it can be less constipating)
  • Adhere to Iodine levels- required for thyroid function and energy production for fetal brain development (seaweed, salt water fish, and seafood)
  • Consume about 2000mL of fluid per day (even more in summer months, water is best)
  • 30g of Fiber/day- from fruits, veggies, whole grains, lentils/beans/legumes
  • Omit Alcohol (engaging increases the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome which can include impaired mental and physical development)
  • Talk to your doctor about a prenatal multivitamin with mineral supplement

Am I eating for two?

Not quite. YES, you’ll need higher calorie consumption, but it’ll be just a slightly higher bump than your normal caloric intake.

1st trimester – no additional calories

2nd trimester ~+ 350 additional calories/day

3rd trimester ~+452 additional calories/day

To note: this is no time for a low carb, detox, ketogenic or other diet.  

Weight loss is NOT recommended. Aim for a nutrient-dense diet with a wide variety of foods.

If vegetarian or vegan: May need to supplement with B12, D, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids. Work with your doctor to find a plan that’s right for you.

What actually happens to my food when I’m pregnant? How does my baby receive the nutrients?

Nutrients are first used for maternal needs, then for placenta, and last for fetal need. It is the fetus, not the mother that is harmed most by poor nutrition.

What are some food safety precautions I should be taking as a pregnant woman?

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked fish, smoked fish/seafood (including sushi, sashimi, ceviche and carpaccio) due to food poisoning and listeria risk or rare/undercooked meat
  • Don’t consume fish high in mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, raw fish)
  • Don’t consume unpasteurized dairy products
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs, cookie dough, or other batters
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized juices
  • Don’t eat grocery store/deli salads (potato salad, chicken salad)
  • Don’t eat raw sprouts/ avoid salad bars
  • Avoid ice cream trucks
  • Heat deli meats to 165 F before consumption.

Can I exercise?

There is no evidence that moderate or vigorous exercise undertaken by healthy women is harmful. The exercise recommendation for pregnant women is 3-5 times per week for 20-30 minutes at 60-70% of your max.

What is gestational diabetes and how does it affect me and my child?

Gestational diabetes is the onset of diabetes during pregnancy. There is a diabetogenic effect from pregnancy that results from maternal insulin resistance. Women developing gestational diabetes appear to be predisposed to insulin resistance and may have impaired insulin production.


  1. Control blood glucose levels
  2. Resolve coexisting health problems
  3. Consume minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods
  4. Consume healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats/monounsaturated fats)

Make sure you follow up with your doctor and are screened for gestational diabetes.

More questions about nutrition for pregnancy? Contact our Clinical Nutrition Department by filling out the form below or call now!

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